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A-Jax Shrinks Strike Zone, Starts Slugging

During his first two years with the Detroit Tigers, Austin Jackson provided value with gazelle-like range in center field, high-percentage base thievery and occasional extra-base hits on balls splitting the gaps. Jackson is still playing good D and showing base running smarts in 2012, but his secondary skills have taken a great leap forward.

His walk rate has soared from 7.7 percent in 2010-11 to 13.7 percent this year, and his Isolated Power has increased from .116 to .228. With far more free passes and pop, Jackson's 163 OPS+ is tops among all MLB center fielders. The former Yankee prospect and Curtis Granderson trade bauble has shown Grandy-like game this year by shrinking his strike zone, getting in more hitter's counts and hammering the in-zone offerings he does pull the trigger on.

Jackson wasn't a hacker in 2010-11, but his plate discipline was pretty ordinary. He chased a little over 26 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. But this season, Jackson has cut his chase rate to 19 percent. Check out his swing rate by pitch location in 2010-11 and then in 2012. He's doing an especially good job of laying off pitches thrown way inside:

Jackson's swing rate by pitch location, 2010-11

 Jackson's swing rate by location, 2012

By cutting down on his chases, Jackson has benefited from having the count in his favor more often. He has gotten into a hitter's count in about 24 percent of his plate appearances in 2012, up from slightly under 18 percent in 2010-11.

Aside from the extra walks, getting ahead of the pitcher has allowed Jackson to tap into his power. Four of his seven homers have come in hitter's counts.  And, as his slugging percentage by location shows, he's killing inside pitches thrown over the plate this season:

Jackson's slugging percentage by location, 2012

Jackson was already an asset to the Tigers as a good defender and base runner at a premium position on the diamond. Now that he's showing a much sharper eye and putting himself in counts conducive to driving the ball, he could give Detroit yet another All-Star in center field.

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